I don’t believe in triggers.
There. I said it.
I know that there are many people who swear by them, and that the term “trigger” is found in the recovery lexicon. It’s somewhat ingrained in the collective psyche of those who suffer from alcoholism and with those who work with them. I have heard the term in AA meetings, in treatment, on recovery forums (AA based and non-AA based), on blogs, in mainstream media, and in countless talks and seminars. It’s something that we see taught to see as a part of recovery, as something to be managed or overcome.
But I still don’t believe in triggers.
When I was in treatment, we were mandated to hit several meeting a week, whether it be AA or CA or NA, depending on our “drug-of-choice” (or “drug-of-no-choice” as I like to call it). At one point, I asked one of the guys there, an addict, if he was going to join me at one particular meeting. He said that he couldn’t, because the bus going there passes by an area that “triggered” him – it was an area that he used to buy drugs. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but later thought to myself, “Is he going to avoid that part of town forever?”
So it was from there that I heard of these “triggers” – emotional, physical, and mental. There were people, places and things that we needed avoiding to ensure we didn’t relapse. We were so very powerless over these people, places and things. We wrote out what triggered us, we spoke about triggers, we did everything short of doing role playing to avoid what would trigger us. Everyone, it would seem, was trigger happy.
Now, I do understand of course what they mean by the word “trigger”. I know that it’s something that reminds us or puts us in a state of mind of how it was when we drank, and would possibly give us the reason to pick up a drink. It may be an ex, or it could be a particular bar, or it’s perhaps an event like a wedding. I certainly had associations to places or things that recalled my drinking days. I certainly knew very early on that it was difficult to do those certain things or be in those states of mind so young in recovery. The problem is that I couldn’t avoid things forever. And I think that is where I have a disagreement with the idea of triggers.
For this alcoholic, everything was a trigger in my drinking days. The fact that I was still me, stuck in my horrible skin in my horrible mind surrounded by horrible people, was enough for me to want to drink. The fact that I took in air was a trigger. So would I be holed up in a cave forever when I stopped drinking? How could I go through life avoiding certain people, certain places and certain events (weddings, funerals, get togethers, celebrations, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, luncheons, picnics, buffets, restaurants, etc?) How could I pretend that alcohol didn’t exist, or just be, knowing that at anytime, something would jump me by accident and there I am, guzzling vodka? I couldn’t.
To place the blame of my eventual relapse on something external, something out of myself, dooms me forever. I will lose every time. To go with the mindset that something else is responsible for my alcohol intake is taking the easy way out. And again, alcoholism wins. I didn’t drink because I was in a certain club, or because I was with a certain group of guys, or because I was always depressed. Those may have been circumstances, nothing else, but I drank because I couldn’t stand being in my own skin. I drank because if you knew how I felt when I didn’t drink, you’d drink too. I drank because I didn’t know how to be in this world. I drank because I am an alcoholic. So to tell me that when I stop drinking, things will be fine is a lie. I have removed the medicine, and now need to work on the real problem – me. I need to face life without alcohol. And that’s the hard part. That’s the work. And for me, it was through AA that I did the work, and still do it today. So you see, it’s by dealing with the underlying causes and conditions that brought me to drink, that I don’t have the urge to drink and hide anymore.
The nightmare, for me, would be thinking that there were these triggers out there, just giving me a reason to relapse. I would be struggling every single moment of the day, fighting my untreated alcoholism tooth and nail, draining my spirit and mind by fending off urges from all moments of the day and night until I fell into a fitful sleep. That’s is not living, to me.
Being in that grey zone between the pain of not drinking, and the pain of drinking was a place of abandonment, a place of shaded borders, a place where the Light did not enter nor reflected on the pools of stagnant water that sat there. This was the time for me when suicide suddenly appeared on the menu. The Ultimate Last Call beckoned me often, and I often wished for a chamber and a trigger. This is the place where many alcoholics find it easier to die than to live.
For me to believe in triggers means that I can never recover. That’s because then the reason for drinking never sits in me, when in fact it does. I know of people six or seven years of sobriety still cannot pass by a liquor store or go down the booze aisle at the grocery store. I recall a guy at a meeting who couldn’t have pop because the sound of the can opening up reminded him of beer. I know lots of men and women who can’t go near X or be around Y ever because they feel that they will drink. That’s not recovery. That might not even be sobriety. That’s abstinence.
I like freedom. I like the freedom to go where I please, see who I please, dine where I please and not have the siren calls of alcohol drift my way. I handle alcohol often at work. I am often surrounded by empties and people socializing and spilling wine and chugging shots. We have wine in the house for guests, or for the occasional glass my wife takes. I can be around drunk people, I can watch vodka ads, and I can be in all the situations I used to be in when I drank and not think of drinking. And not white-knuckling it. True freedom.
Easier said than done, I know.
I didn’t get like that overnight, and I still need do the work I need to do in my recovery to avoid complacency – I hit meetings, talk to others, work with and sponsor alcoholic men, read the literature, pray, meditate, etc. I love recovery because I love living and I love life. I couldn’t say that two years ago or so. I love the alcoholics I have met in real life, in the blogosphere (real people too, I know!), on forums, at conventions, online…it’s all been a wonderful thing. It took me time to get to where I am at, and certainly early on I had to make sure I was in safe places, and sometimes in the safety of others to help me along. I had thoughts of drinking, certainly, and I had to do what I needed to do to make sure I didn’t drink. But through the work, connecting to the Creator and helping others, that mental obsession is gone.
That is why I don’t believe in triggers. It’s an inside job, and there is no thing, no person , no event that will “trigger” me or “make” me drink. The only thing that gets a drink in my hand is untreated alcoholism. Pure and simple. Anything else is an excuse.
I realize I am rant-y with this, but this is a serious, fatal disease. I don’t think people realize how much alcoholism kills.
Let’s not just live by breathing, but live by love, light and freedom.
Love to all.